Autumn doesn’t show up where I stay. It is just a mild summer. No browns, reds or oranges. I am mostly in bed these days, exhausted, because my body is making a tiny human. I try to invoke an autumnal aura by pulling down the window shades to filter in a soft honey light. And by vegetating in front of a Gilmore Girls binge watch. And daydream about talking to my child.
I read Janice Pariat’s book of short stories, ‘Boats on Land’. It was a real pleasure. It offers up an engaging mix of hills, sprawling tea-estates, mists, folklore, incessant rain, lives of people in places where nothing much happens, displacement, forbidden feelings, wistfulness, fragile hopes, and so much more. I read it this weekend, and have finally broken the reading slump I found myself in the past few weeks.
An assamese lunch has become a ritual every Sunday, a welcome break for me in a week of paneer, dosa, sambar, pasta etc. I take out the brass metal plates and bowls my parents gave me the last time I was home. My husband buys fish the evening before. We fry the Rohu pieces and later dunk them in a mustard gravy. The green chillies are from the garden. There is masoor dal with a generous sprinkling of squeezed lemon juice (unfortunately one-third the size of the ones found in Assam). Mashed or fried potatoes. With mustard oil. An unhealthy indulgence, but a loved one. There will be round slices of brinjal dunked in besan gravy and fried. Maybe an egg. Greens are in the form of a soup. Mango pickle. A slice of lime. And I am transported back to my childhood, and my mother feeding us the same food. The comfort of knowing it will be the same every day when we come home. Every single day. Its recreation is the comfort now.
1. ‘My Father’s Book’ by Urs Widmer: A son describes his father ‘s life, growing up in Switzerland in the early 1900s-going through two wars, his painter and architect friends, a brief spell of being a communist, following a woman to Paris and living the life of poverty yet voraciously reading, setting up an enviable life with his wife, nonchalantly digging into her inheritance to buy records and books and wine, a career in translation and publishing, battling with chronic pain, but above all a glimpse into rural/ small town Switzerland and making me aware of its vibrant culture. I had always tagged Switzerland as ‘neutral’ (read bland), and known only for its cheese, banks and scenic vistas. But this book gave me a glimpse of its early and mid century politics, response to war, art scene, literature. What stood out: character quirks, the idea of documenting everyday of one’s life in a fat blank book gifted to them on their twelfth birthday (a tradition in the village of the author’s father), the practice of keeping open coffins outside the village homes for each of the family members (a daily morbid reminder of life’s brevity). This book meant more to me because I visited Switzerland for the first time last year, and was highly impressed by its beauty and efficiency. And this book offered me a view of the rough, uncertain and slow evolution of this wonderful country.
2. Close Company – A Virago New Fiction collection of short stories depicting lives of mothers and daughters throughout the century. It highlights the (often very, very) subtle inequalities and prejudices faced by women at home, work and society at large; the largely invisible chores assigned to and demands made of them ; the guilt and subtle shaming still being the price of their seeking independence; relationship power dynamics and mostly their dreams or its graveyard. The stories range from a couple of pages to longer ones, and includes a variety of authors from Alice Munro to Fay Weldon to Margaret Atwood. I was struck by the palpable helplessness I felt on reading Fay Weldon’s ‘ Weekend’
3. Currently reading : Atomic Habits. Lesson imbibed in the first few chapters. Strive for 1% betterment in all spheres of life and goals. Gradually accumulate the benefit of these consistent mini-improvements.